Far from perfect, but still good enough

25385.jpgEdwin Jackson, meet Francisco Liriano. The Minnesota lefty took a page out of his counterpart’s book last night, walking six and throwing 57 balls but still hanging on for a no-hitter in a 1-0 win over the White Sox last night at U.S. Cellular Field. You may recall Jackson, while a member of the D-Backs last June, needed 149 pitches and walked eight in his no-no against the Rays.

Liriano didn’t have the best stuff he’s shown in his unpredictable career, but that’s not always necessary when facing Chicago. Still, holding any team hitless over nine innings is no easy task, especially for a guy coming in with an ERA of 9.13 in his first five starts. Liriano struck out just two, got the benefit of a horrific call on a whiffed tag (albeit on a double play, which wouldn’t have been a hit) to end the eighth and battled back from a 3-0 count to get Adam Dunn to line to short to end it. With that, the Twins became the happiest 10-18 baseball team in the world, even if just for a few hours.

So, that wraps another chapter in Liriano’s book, one you’re likely familiar with if you’re a baseball fan. He broke in as a 21-year-old late in 2005, went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA as a rookie the following season, missed all of 2007 due to Tommy John surgery and was up-and-down between Minnesota and the minors in 2008. After a terrible 5-13, 5.80 year in 2009 with the Twins, he recovered to go 14-10 and 3.62 as an AL All-Star last season. His reversion to his 2009 self may have been halted last night, if a no-hitter does as much for your confidence as I’d think it should. Then again, I can’t speak from experience, having never thrown one.

The Twins are hoping this turns around their nightmarish start as well, as they’re set to face the Red Sox at Fenway after this afternoon’s series finale in Chicago. Nick Blackburn (1-4, 5.14) duels John Danks (0-4, 3.92) in a matchup of pitchers that are dying for a little run support.

Other scores from Tuesday: Tampa Bay 3, Toronto 2; Detroit 4, New York 2; Philadelphia 4, Washington 1; Boston 7, Los Angeles 3; Houston 10, Cincinnati 4; San Francisco 7, New York 6 (10); Kansas City 6, Baltimore 5 (10); St. Louis 7, Florida 5; Arizona 4, Colorado 3; Cleveland 4, Oakland 1; San Diego 6, Pittsburgh 5; Seattle 4, Texas 3; Chicago Cubs 4, LA Dodgers 3; Milwaukee-Atlanta PPD.

 

Game Balls:

  • The Plate: St. Louis rookie Daniel Descalso went 2-for-3 with two runs, a single, and a game-winning three-run homer in the eighth, giving the Cardinals a 7-5 win over the Marlins.
  • The Mound: Yeah, I’ll give this one to Liriano, even though it was against the White Sox.

The forgotten games, aside from New York-Philly

Yeah, there was actually some baseball played yesterday, but you’re forgiven for forgetting it already. Here’s a recap of Sunday:

Cleveland 5, Detroit 4

52226.jpgIs this for real? Since it’s unlikely to last, we might as well let Cleveland make the most of it. The Indians completed a sweep of the Tigers at Progressive Field Sunday afternoon, getting three runs off Joaquin Benoit in the eighth on singles by Orlando Cabrera and Michael Brantley and a sac fly by Matt LaPorta. Undefeated starter Justin Masterson (5-0) went seven innings and got a no-decision, with Chad Durbin grabbing his first win and relief and Chris “Kenny Powers” Perez earning his seventh save in eight attempts.

Atlanta 6, St. Louis 5

Pinch hitter extraordinaire and defensive nightmare Brooks Conrad added to Ryan Franklin’s miserable season, singling home Alex Gonzalez with one out in the ninth to give the Braves a walkoff win at Turner Field. The Cardinals scored three times in the first off noted reckless driver Derek Lowe and took a 4-0 lead to the bottom of the fifth, but Gonzalez’s fourth homer of the season got Atlanta on the board and back into the game. Matt Holliday had a pair of doubles in a 2-for-3 afternoon, bumping his average to a majors-best .418.

Los Angeles 6, Tampa Bay 5

Jered Weaver was scratched from his scheduled start with a stomach virus and the Rays capitalized with five first-inning runs off replacement Tyler Chatwood, but Los Angeles battled back and won on Hank Conger ground out in the eighth. With Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter on first and third with one out, Conger was thrown out on a bouncer to second and Wells forced a rundown that allowed Hunter to score what held as the winner. Weaver, the league’s only six-game winner, is now planned to start Monday against the Red Sox.

Other scores from Sunday: New York 5, Toronto 2; Boston 3, Seattle 2; Oakland 7, Texas 2; Kansas City 10, Minnesota 3; Washington 5, San Francisco 2; Houston 5, Milwaukee 0; Baltimore 6, Chicago 4; Pittsburgh 8, Colorado 4; Florida 9, Cincinnati 5; San Diego 7, Los Angeles 0; Arizona 4, Chicago 3; Now York 2, Philadelphia 1 (14).

 

Game Balls:

  • The Plate: Kansas City’s Mike Aviles hit a three-run homer and went 3-for-5 with two runs and four RBI in a 10-3 win over the Twins.
  • The Mound: Houston’s Bud Norris came up four outs short of a complete-game shutout, holding Milwaukee to three hits and striking out 11 in a 5-0 win.

 

Monday’s Game of the Day:

Assuming he’s over his stomach virus, Jered Weaver (6-0, 0.99 ERA) will put his perfect season on the line at Fenway against Clay Buchholz (1-3, 5.33) and the Red Sox. Weaver, who was scratched Sunday in Tampa Bay with the illness, comes in having given up just five earned runs in five starts and fresh off a 10-K strikeout in a 5-0 win against Oakland.

A proud day for the Braves

49491.jpgNice day not to be working in public relations for the Atlanta Braves, hey? Atlanta announced this afternoon it’s placing pitching coach Roger McDowell (of second spiiter fame) on indefinite leave in wake of offensive remarks he made to fans in San Francisco last weekend, a couple hours after news broke that starting pitcher Derek Lowe was booked for DUI and reckless driving last night.

A San Francisco family held a press conference a couple days ago claiming McDowell, who was known as the league’s biggest jokester in his playing days and made a memorable cameo on Seinfeld about 20 years ago (has it really been off-air since 1998?), made homophobic remarks to three men behind the Braves’ dugout prior to Saturday’s game. The father, Justin Quinn, sitting nearby with his wife and two daughters, called McDowell out, to which he allegedly responded “How much are your teeth worth?”. McDowell since released a statement apologizing for his actions, but was still sent home by Atlanta for at least this weekend’s series at Turner Field against the Cardinals. Probably saves some distraction, as well ensures a bit more safety for the people sitting around the team’s dugout.

First off, I’m not gonna make an excuse for McDowell. Was there a reason, though? Maybe he was having a bad weekend. Maybe the three fans he originally called out — “Are you a **** couple or a threesome”, he allegedly said — were giving him a hard time. Maybe McDowell is just a bad person. Either way, he’s responsible for getting himself out of this whole mess, or risk not getting another job in baseball. There’s no word on how long the Braves intend to keep him sidelined, but I’m guessing public perception will have a large role in the decision whether or not to bring him back.

Lowe, who’s in the third year of a four-year, $60 million deal, was pulled over last night around 10pm for racing on an Atlanta street and charged after failing a field sobriety test. He last pitched in a loss in San Diego on Monday, and is 2-3 with a 3.21 ERA in six starts this season.

King Zorilla

ap-6c9ae4e9c621427887a906df32701952.jpgStep aside, LeBron — there’s a new king, and his name is Ben Zobrist. Tampa Bay’s Mr. Everything did about a month’s work of damage in yesterday’s doubleheader at Target Field against the Twins, tying a (Devil) Rays record with eight RBIs, courtesy of a single, two doubles and a three-run homer in a 15-3 win in the opener and following with a single, double, two-run homer and a pair of RBI in a 6-1 win in the nightcap. Not a bad little line of 7-for-10 with three doubles, two homers, five runs and 10 RBI for a day’s work.

It didn’t exactly start there for the Zorilla, either. He came in with eight RBI in his previous three games, with three in the series opener on Tuesday and a combined five on a pair of homers in the final two games in Toronto over the weekend. The mark of 18 ties Reggie Jackson’s record for most in any stretch of five games in baseball history. Zobrist entered Sunday’s game hitting .183 with three home runs and seven RBI, and now sits at .258 with seven and 25, the latter of which ranks tops in all of baseball. I don’t wanna jinx it, but I get the feeling someone has a Player of the Week honour coming.

The Rays, by the way, improved to 14-11 on the season with the sweep and 13-3 since losing eight of their first nine games to start the year. If they can do that without Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria, then how great could they be without their new best player? I say send him to the Blue Jays, and maybe toss David Price into the deal as well.

Other scores from Thursday: San Francisco 5, Pittsburgh 2; Seattle 7, Detroit 2; Toronto 5, Texas 2; Boston 6, Baltimore 2; Cleveland 8, Kansas City 2; NY Yankees 12, Chicago White Sox 3; Washington 4, NY Mets 3; St. Louis 11, Houston 7; Arizona 11, Chicago Cubs 2.

 

Game Balls:

  • The Plate: See above.
  • The Mound: Sticking with the Rays, Jeff Niemann grabbed his first win in five starts, going seven innings and giving up just two hits and a run in the finale of the doubleheader, a 6-1 win.

 

Friday’s Game of the Day:

The Cardinals and Braves start a weekend set at Turner Field, with Chris Carpenter (0-2, 3.90) and Tim Hudson (3-2, 3.57) battling on the mound. Atlanta comes home on a hot streak, having won five of its final six on a tour of California, but runs into a St. Louis team that’s won six of eight to top the NL Central at 14-11.

 

Didn’t even hurt

i[7].jpgNo reason to hold your breath, baseball fans — Jose Bautista feels no pain. He’s merely grimacing for the sake of the ball, which so stupidly hit his hand in this afternoon’s 5-2 win over the Rangers.

To be honest, I wasn’t sitting too comfortably in the moments after Joey Bats wore an inside fastball from Pedro Strop, but our hero rose up made a clutch sliding catch an inning later and walked in the Jays’ three-run ninth inning rally, which earned their third win in four games in Arlington.

It’s a bit of a relief for Toronto, which set out on a 10-game tour of Texas, New York and Tampa Bay on Sunday after dropping its second straight at home against the Rays and 10th of 14 overall. The Jays are at Yankee Stadium Friday to start a three-gamer, with Ricky Romero (1-3, 3.00 ERA) getting the start against Freddy “The Rock” Garcia (1-0, 0.69).

Angels KO’d by Ross, Pennington

No walkoff action on Wednesday, but a few extra inning games and a fine start from a young giant at Angel Stadium. Here’s a look at how things shaped up Wednesday:

Oakland 2, Los Angeles 1 (10 innings)

20948.jpgCliff Pennington tripled off Jordan Walden to lead off the 10th and scored on a Conor Jackson ground out, allowing Oakland to escape with an extra-inning win in Anaheim. Dan Haren turned in another fine outing for the Angels, but barely escaped with a no-decision when Bobby Abreu laced a one-out RBI double in the ninth to force extras. Haren gave up just three hits and an unearned run over seven, but was matched by Oakland’s Tyson Ross, who held the Angels scoreless on four hits over seven innings of his own.

Los Angeles 5, Florida 4 (10 innings)

Andre Ethier extended his hitting streak to 24 with a fourth inning single but did his real damage in the 10th, when he lifted a game-winning homer to right to give the Dodgers a win on getaway day in Florida. Los Angeles erased an early 4-0 deficit, scoring three times in the fourth on a Rod Barajas homer and tying it in the seventh on a Juan Uribe double that set up Ethier’s third homer of the year. Ethier finished 2-for-5 and Vicente Padilla closed things out for his first save since 2000.

Pittsburgh 2, San Francisco 0

How about a little love for the ’91 NL West champs? Pittsburgh got six shutout innings from James McDonald and RBI singles from Jose Tabata and Chris Snyder to beat the Giants at PNC Park. San Francisco managed just six singles off five Pirates pitchers, which wasn’t enough to get Madison Bumgarner his first win in his best start of the season. The sophomore lefty dropped to 0-4, with his bats providing a combined eight runs of support in five games.

Other scores from Wednesday: Cincinnati 7, Milwaukee 6 (10); Atlanta 7, San Diego 0; Philadelphia 8, Arizona 4; Baltimore 5, Boston 4; Cleveland 7, Kansas City 2; Seattle 10, Detroit 1; NY Yankees 3, Chicago White Sox 1; NY Mets 6, Washington 3; Texas 7, Toronto 6; St. Louis 6, Houston 5; Tampa Bay 8, Minnesota 2; Colorado-Chicago Cubs PPD.

 

Game Balls

  • The Plate: Justin Smoak continued his hot stretch, homering for the third consecutive game in Seattle’s 10-1 romp of the Tigers. His first inning shot off Justin Verlander plated three, and he added a two-RBI single in a 2-for-4, two-run, five-RBI night.
  • The Mound: Tommy Hanson struck out 10 over seven innings, but put in a personal call requesting I hand this one to Ross. The 24-year-old was on a pitch count, but needed just 76 to get through seven innings, giving up just four singles, walking one and striking out three Angels.

 

Thursday’s Game of the Day:

It’s an intriguing pitching matchup in Texas, where the Blue Jays send Brandon Morrow (0-1, 5.06 ERA) to the hill to face the Rangers’ Alexi Ogando (3-0, 2.13). Like Toronto did with Morrow in 2010, Texas is attempting to stretch Ogando into a starter, and thus far the results are promising — he’s yet to take a loss in four starts, with five of the six runs he’s allowed all season coming in an outing at Yankee Stadium 11 days ago. Morrow came off the disabled list to make his first start last Saturday, striking out 10 Rays in 5 1/3 innings.

Good, but I’ve seen better

84245.jpgAndre Ethier etched his name in Major League history yesterday, doubling in the first inning of the Dodgers’ 4-2 loss to the Marlins to extend his hitting streak to 23 games, the longest such streak in April in league history. Throw a toast to that, and then take a moment to consider the one record in baseball that’ll never be broken. If you’re thinking Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, you’re on the same page as me.

Just how incredible is DiMaggio’s record? Well, the fact that we’re hyping a 23-gamer is evidence enough. And believe me, that’s taking nothing away from what Ethier’s done — hitting in 23 straight games is no easy task, and it’s about 23 more Major League games than I’ve managed to snag a base hit in. But consider that it’s 41 percent of the way to DiMaggio’s mark. That’s like comparing a .166 hitter to the .406 average Ted Williams posted in 1941, which happened to be the same season Joltin’ Joe went all bat crazy.

Ethier’s streak is still in effect, so we’ll see how long it drags on for. If history is any indication, it won’t be much longer: Only 52 times in history has a streak reached 30 games, with Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman the most recent in 2009. Philadelphia’s Jimmy Rollins has the most impressive strak of late, when he hit in 38 straight between 2005 and 2006, and teammate Chase Utley stretched a 35-gamer of his own in 2006. The runner up to DiMaggio is Wee Willie Keeler, who managed a hit in 45 straight between 1896 and 1897, with Pete Rose the closest to match since DiMaggio, when he went 44 consecutive in 1978.

For the record, Ethier has hit .412 (35-for-85) during the streak, which started in Los Angeles’ third game of the season. All nine of his doubles, both his homers and all 14 of his RBI have come since it began.

Paul Konerko, just in time

Here’s a look at what went down Tuesday, with a special focus on the league’s baddest division, the AL East:

Chicago 3, New York 2

8167.jpgHow’s $36 million for a setup man that can’t even safely get games to Mariano Rivera? Rafael Soriano’s rough month got worse at Yankee Stadium, as Paul Konerko got to him for a two-run eighth-inning homer in Chicago’s second straight win over New York. Gavin Floyd did his part to keep the White Sox in it to that point, holding the Yankees to two runs and striking out 10 over eight innings, and Matt Thornton and Sergio Santos teamed up to finish it off in the ninth.

Toronto 10, Texas 3

Adam Lind continued his career-long tear in Arlington, homering twice and driving in five runs in the Jays’ win over the Rangers. Lind drove home Toronto’s first run with a single in a four-run first inning, then followed with long balls in third and fourth — his 13th and 14th in 33 road games against Texas. Jesse Litsch returned from Triple-A Las Vegas to toss six innings and win for the second time in four starts in the bigs this season.

Baltimore 4, Boston 1

Zach Britton got the Orioles back on track at home against Boston, holding the Red Sox to five hits and a run over six innings to improve to 4-1. Baltimore got to Clay Buchholz for 12 hits and scored three of its runs of sacrifice flies, with Adam Jones pitching in a pair and Mark Reynolds providing the other. Vladimir Guerrero added three singles and Kevin Gregg pitched a scoreless ninth for his third save.

Other scores from Tuesday: Cleveland 9, Kansas City 4; Seattle 7, Detroit 3; New York 6, Washington 4; San Francisco 3, Pittsburgh 2 (10); Florida 4, Los Angeles 2; Colorado 4, Chicago 3; Houston 6, St. Louis 5; Milwaukee 3, Cincinnati 2; Arizona 7, Philadelphia 5; Atlanta 8, San Diego 2; Los Angeles 8, Oakland 3; Tampa Bay-Minnesota PPD.

 

Game Balls:

  • The Plate: Is this the game that finally vaults Lind back to the heights of his ’09 season? I’m hoping so. He finished 3-for-5 with three runs, five RBI and two homers in Toronto’s 10-3 romp over the Rangers.
  • The Mound: Floyd’s line was great in itself, and even better considering it came against the Yankees. He gave up just four hits and walked two over eight, striking out 10 in Chicago 3-2 win in the Bronx.

 

Wednesday’s Game of the Day:

Florida’s Anibal Sanchez (1-1, 3.55 ERA) makes his first start since narrowly missing a no-hitter Friday, with the Dodgers countering with Chad Billingsley (2-1, 4.13) in the finale of a three-gamer at Sun Life Stadium. Sanchez took his bid to the ninth on the very same mound, missing out on his second career no-no when Dexter Fowler started the inning with a broken bat single. He finished with a one-hitter and nine strikeouts in a 4-1 win.

A blown save that can’t be blamed completely on Jonathan Broxton, for once

A mini slate of nine games, but plenty of action nonetheless. Here’s a look at the highlights from Monday:

Florida 5, Los Angeles 4

35675.jpgDodgers shortstop Jamey Carroll let a two-out roller get under his glove, setting up a two-run walkoff drive to left by Omar Infante to give Florida a comeback win at Sun Life Stadium. Jonathan Broxton retired the first two batters of the inning before giving up a walk and single, setting up a Scott Cousins chopper that eluded Carroll for his third error of the year. Cousins took second on defensive indifference and Chris Coghlan, who homered twice in the game, was intenionally walked before Infante’s liner over the head of Jerry Sands. Los Angeles’ Andre Ethier singled in the first inning to extend his hitting streak to 22 games, tying the mark for the longest stretch in April.

Toronto 6, Texas 4

The Blue Jays’ power outage officially ended with two out in the fifth, when Corey Patterson, Jose Bautista and Juan Rivera all homered to spot a quick 6-0 lead. All three came off Colby Lewis, with Patterson’s three-run shot getting it started and Bautista following with a solo bomb to left on the following pitch. Kyle Drabek gave up three runs over six innings to win and improve to 2-0 and Jon Rauch danced around a Nelson Cruz solo homer to grab his fourth save of the year.

Arizona 4, Philadelphia 0

Ian Kennedy outdid Cliff Lee at Chase Field, tossing a shutout and striking out 10 Phillies in his first career complete game. Lee turned in a fine outing of his own, fanning 12 over seven innings, but gave up a two-run homer to Chris Young in the third and a solo shot to Gerardo Parra two innings later to drop to 2-2 on the season. Kennedy gave up just three hits and didn’t walk a batter.

Los Angeles 5, Oakland 0

Shutouts against the A’s count, too. Jered Weaver continued his dominance of the American League, winning his sixth straight start and helping the Angels snap a four-game losing skid in the process. He gave up just seven hits and struck out 10, running his record to 6-0 and dropping his ERA to 0.99 in his second straight complete game. Los Angeles scored all five of its runs in the first four innings, getting RBI hits from Howie Kendrick, Bobby Abreu and Erick Aybar.

Others scores from Monday: Chicago 2, New York 0; Pittsburgh 4, Washington 2; Colorado 5, Chicago 3; Cincinnati 9, Milwaukee 5; San Diego 5, Atlanta 3 (13).

 

Game Balls:

  • The Plate: Infante handled the walkoff honours for the Marlins, but Coghan’s 3-for-4, two homer, three-run and two-RBI game was the finest line of the night in Florida’s win over the Dodgers.
  • The Mound: Kennedy gets bonus points for getting past Lee in his three-hit shutout. Along with Weaver, apologies to Chicago’s Philip Humber, who took a no-no to the seventh and pitched seven shutout innings in a win at Yankee Stadium. 

 

Tuesday’s Game of the Day:

The Twins are starting to get on track, and they’re hoping Francisco Liriano (1-3, 7.40 ERA) is ready to do the same. Tampa Bay comes to Target Field to take on Minnesota, which it took three of four from at Tropicana Field a little over a week ago, and sends sophomore righty Wade Davis (2-2, 2.73) to the hill. The Twins have won five of seven after starting 4-10, but face an even hotter Rays team that comes in a winner of 10 of 13 after a 1-8 start.

RIP Phil Hughes’ right arm (1986-2011)

18680.jpgThe right arm of Philip Hughes, a first round pick of the New York Yankees and general Major League washout, died today. It was 24.

Hughes’ arm got its start in baseball as a standout in little league and continued its rise to stardom at Foothill High School in Santa Ana, CA, before New York took a shot on it in the first round of the 2004 MLB Draft. It signed its first contract with the Yankees eight days shy of its 18th birthday and was assigned to the Gulf Coast League Yankees later in the year, where it started three games and pitched a total of five innings.

Hughes’ arm continued its steady rise through the minor league ranks in 2005, going a combined 9-1 for Single-A affiliates in Charleston and Tampa. It was promoted to Double-A Trenton the following season and made its Major League debut on Apr. 26, 2007, starting for the Yankees in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays. It surrendered four runs in a 6-0 loss, but recovered to finish 5-3 with a 4.46 ERA in 13 starts with New York that year.

The first hint that Hughes’ arm would develop into a colossol disappointment came in 2008, when it went 0-4 with a 6.62 ERA in eight starts. It recovered to serve as a valuable member of the Yankees’ bullpen in the 2009 World Series season and started last year well, but a rough second half and a couple of nightmare starts in the ALDS against Texas ended 2010 on a somber note.

The arm showed little hope of revival earlier this month, when it started three games and gave up a combined 19 hits and 16 runs. It was put on life support, but after a side session this afternoon, was declared dead.

“It’s like if someone hits you in the thigh real hard,” Hughes said. “This is way too soon. It’s discouraging.”

The Yankees plan to proceed with their slate of games as scheduled, with the right arm of Allan James Burnett paying tribute in a ceremony tonight at Yankee Stadium, where New York faces the Chicago White Sox.

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